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Can the CIO Be An Endangered Species?

By Tom Steinert-Threlkeld  |  Posted 2003-08-01 Print this article Print

Information technologists might just engineer themselves out of their jobs.

The code-writing is on the screen.

Development of software is shifting to India, China and the Philippines.

Deployment also is moving out. PeopleSoft has announced the creation of an implementation lab in Bangalore, India, which will integrate software customers want, work out bugs and then send it on for installation. Dell and other systems makers increasingly install enterprise software on machines and test their operations at factories, before sending crews into the field to actually put servers and their desktop counterparts into place.

There's a burgeoning business as well in automating the information technology department. Web-browser wunderkind Marc Andreessen's current company, Opsware, aims to automate operations in the data center. Novell promises 90-day payback on its mechanisms for deploying services and programs to servers, desktop computers and mobile devices. Startups such as Everdream are taking over procurement and support of personal computers. And what big integrator, from HP to IBM to EDS, hasn't long promised to take all information-technology operations off a company's hands? (See "The Competitor Next Door," June.)

Bottom line: The jobs of people who deploy information technology in the enterprise are being radically reshaped—and streamlined—by technology itself.

Enterprise software vendors, for instance, from SAP to Oracle, are taking on more and more software development and integration tasks themselves.

At its Leadership Summit in May in Las Vegas, PeopleSoft said it would integrate its enterprise software with programs its customers used from SAP and Oracle.

It also said it would put 300 people in its Bangalore lab to prep programs for installation in its customers' places of business, even if those locales were an ocean away.

Chief Executive Craig Conway even said he would deploy 500 developers to automate technology functions that should not be "people intensive." This hunt will be for tasks as simple as deploying the right printer driver when new hardware is installed. "We're looking for hundreds of examples of I.T. organizations dealing with software and saying, 'I don't have to do this,'" Conway says.

This is part and parcel of a broad set of initiatives to take more and more tasks off the shoulders of chief information officers, network administrators, developers, project managers and technology staffs, in general.

The direction PeopleSoft is taking will survive whatever happens in its merger brouhaha with Oracle (see "Consolidation Daze," July). Chores of CIOs or project managers will pop up on dashboards showing which projects are on time, which are late and which are over budget. Analytical aids will help them understand why, quickly.

Project leadership will increasingly mean managing changes in organizations, so whatever technology is brought to bear slips smoothly into place. The work itself can be increasingly jobbed out—not just to a "systems integrator," or consultant, but to a systems manufacturer or software developer or hosting service, such as Salesforce.com.

If this persists, not just computing power will become a utility. The development, deployment, maintenance and support of software will be provided by utilities. The result, says Hugo DiGiulio, past president of Palo Alto Associates, a management-systems consultancy, is that the CIO will become an endangered species.

The job of the person at the top—the highest-level CIO—is probably safe. But fewer chief information officers overall will be needed at subsidiaries. Technology teams also likely will consolidate, serving multiple businesses, not just one.

The primary charge of those still drawing paychecks will be to develop and manage a comprehensive repository of data that can be effectively used by any Web services that can be envisioned. That data also will be shared, as needed, with any partners, customers and regulators.

In this process, information technologists will be putting other information technologists out of jobs, at least within the enterprise as we know it.

Tom was editor-in-chief of Interactive Week, from 1995 to 2000, leading a team that created the Internet industry's first newspaper and won numerous awards for the publication. He also has been an award-winning technology journalist for the Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He is a graduate of the Harvard Business School and the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
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